The Majestic Whites Part 1
“To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon the verdant green hills is the perfect refreshment”. –Jane Austen
In between paragraphs outlining late 18th century society in England, Jane Austen managed to capture simply and eloquently one of the sweetest parts of trail life. After a long day of trudging, crunching, groaning, sweating and dragging, a tree comes into your vision with the perfect butt-shaped bed of pine needles at its base. You fling your pack from your broken back and collapse in a heap, a cool breeze bringing some relief to your singed cheeks. You rub the sweat from your stinging eyes and slowly lift your head. Only then do you realize what lies below. It doesn’t matter where you are on the trail. It might be a field of waving timothy grass. Or a rushing stream dotted with mossy rocks. It could be a jaw-dropping view of valleys and mountains stretching into the sky. Add some lemonade packets in water and a handful of trail mix. That is the perfect refreshment. When your heartbeat slows, you take a moment to realize where you are and why you’re doing this. Our time in the Whites was the most challenging yet(before we hit southern Maine). We needed many, many “verdant green hills” moments. And sometimes they did not come. That’s the maddening mystery of the Whites. You’re slogging from boulder to boulder, too tired to even pull your dragging pants up. Every step sends shock waves of pain through your joints. Sunscreen has gotten in your eyes and somehow the sun still burned a hole in your hands. And you still have 6 miles to go.
My recommendation for anyone still making their way through the Whites is this: Lift up your head. Even if it’s for just a moment. Don’t fall and hurt yourself, but pause for a minute and lift up your head.
Lift up your head for a moment. And then keep on.
We began our journey through the Whites with a slack pack south over Mt. Moosilauke because of impending rain. Having been off trail for a week, this was a good warm up for my noodle legs.
Ranger, Kentucky and I spent the next few days struggling over North and South Kinsman. Again, this section is a great warm up for what’s to come with elevation and some rock faces to clamber up/down (fun in the rain). I experienced my first ankle deep step in NH mud. I hear it’s good for your skin? We were also blessed with some fantastic trail magic at an overlook. Two thru-hikers who had just completed their hike decided to return and bring hope to those still plodding. Music, donuts, Snickers, beer and some laughs.
We learned a couple more lessons through the Kinsmans.
~If it’s raining/sunny in the Whites, just wait five minutes.
Be prepared for all kinds of weather. When we arrived on the overlook, the sun was shining bright and the sky was a beautiful blue. Within minutes, it was raining and a great bank of clouds had rolled in.
Don’t skimp on layers to save on weight. Pack your base layers, your puffy coat, rain skirt, gloves and hat. Also, pack sunscreen. I learned the hard way on Franconia Ridge.
At Eliza Brook shelter, we learned another valuable/silly lesson:
~Never shine your headlamp down a (full) privy hole.
“Snow cone” will take on a whole new meaning. Sometimes, it’s better to just dig a cat hole and continue on with your day. I suppose I could turn this into a more philosophical guidance, too. There are a billion challenges we face on the AT. Some days are just plain miserable. Try not to focus on the negative parts. Cry and vent a little. Then, herd your mind toward more positive things, like how mind-blowing creation is and how privileged we are to have this opportunity. And hot chocolate.
Since Pawling, I’ve heard stories. Thru-hikers whisper somberly of the challenges of the Whites or curse loudly the logistical difficulties. Hushed voices, pensive faces, clenched fists, possible stomach ulcers. Having made it through, I have this to say: for every bump, bruise and headache, in my experience, there were equally as many, if not more, rewarding views and euphoric moments. If you haven’t done the Whites yet, you are seriously in for a treat. Try to leave as many stereotypes as possible out of your experience. I promise you, there will be moments when you want to do a Cheryl Straid and scream, chucking your pack and poles (and boot) down the boulder field. Like with the weather, I urge you to wait five minutes. The Whites might surprise you. And you will at least have poles to hike out with.
Next post will be an account of our journey from Franconia Ridge to Mt. Madison. That section took my breath away. Literally.
Until next time,
Your homework this week is to read Psalm 19 and catch a sunset, whether you are on the trail or not. Be awed.
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